Dec 082015

Can You Keep Your Composure or Do You Lose Control?

Composure in a leader is reflected in their attitude, body language, and overall presence. It’s about a calm or tranquil state, self-possession, tranquility, and serenity, especially of the mind.

Our emotions are designed to help us cope with emergencies and threats.  When we get emotional, our heart pumps faster and our blood pressure increases. We feel more energy because our body releases glucose into our bloodstream. Our body gains energy and strength, our eyes dilate to take in more light, and our breathing rate increases to get more oxygen to our brain and muscles.

Once the emotional response is triggered, it has to run its course. If no threat follows the trigger, it can last 45-60 seconds. That’s why many people count to 10 before reacting. The problem is people usually respond in one of three ways:

Fight – we can choose to fight (argue or respond)
Flight – we can flee (calmly shut down and exit)
Freeze – our emotions are shut down, leaving us speechless

Before I provide you with some ways to keep your composure, I thought it would be fun and interesting to mention some popular similes that come to mind about keeping our composure. Like “cool as a cucumber.”

Cool as a cucumber. This simile refers to being calm, cool and collected. Cucumbers have long been used in salads and relished for their refreshing, cooling quality.

Cool your jets. This one means to relax, calm down and take it easy. It is an extension of “cool it.” The jets may refer to the jet engines of a plane, which get extremely hot before takeoff, and are thus comparable to the feverishly excited condition of an individual to whom a negative remark has been addressed.

Count to 10. Take a deep breath, calm down, and pause and consider before acting impulsively. This common expression is often used by someone who is violently angry and about to lose his/her temper. It is also a warning to another person to behave in a certain manner or suffer the consequences when the counter reaches “10.”

Keep your shirt on. Refers to stay calm, keep cool and don’t get worked up. Men usually remove their shirts before engaging in a fistfight, hence the expression.

Leaders today need to show more composure than ever before. Having the ability to show poise and patience minimizes the impact and uncertainty of the situation. How leaders respond to growing pressures indicates their leadership preparedness, maturity and acumen.

Instead of panicking, a leader needs to see the opportunity it can present. Leadership requires us to quickly detect the causes of adversity and solve them immediately. Crisis can result when composure is missing. As a leader you have to avoid signs of immaturity or lack of preparedness that can make your employees feel unsafe and unsecure.

Here are some ways to maintain leadership composure during those pressure -packed moments.

1.    Don’t allow your emotions to get in the way. Don’t yell or get animated. Show emotional control so that even your body language doesn’t give your emotions away.

Write down the last 25 times you have lost your composure. What caused the situation? Group these events by trigger, such as a certain person, money, authority, criticism, etc. Consider each group and determine a more mature response. Then mentally and physically rehearse it, trying to decrease the number of times you lose our composure.

2.    Don’t take it personal. Do you become vengeful, sarcastic or angry? These emotions may be satisfying on a temporary basis, but they will backfire in the long run. If someone attacks you, rephrase it as an attack on the problem. Ask them what they would do in your shoes. Play out what could happen if their position was accepted. Let the other side vent and blow off steam, but don’t react.

When you take things personally it makes it more difficult to maintain your composure. If you take things personally it creates more office noise and escalates the politics around you.

3.    Be deliberate and fearless. You need to take quick action. Solutions first, understanding second. Define the problem, ask clarifying questions, restate the problem and throw out solutions for debate. Then decide.

When leaders project confidence, it is instilled in others. If you begin to fear adverse circumstances, you become vulnerable. This can make it difficult to act rationally and objectively. If you panic, you will lose focus and could mentally freeze.

4.    Act like you’ve been there before. Show that you’ve been thru the process before. Show an executive presence by approaching the matter at hand with elegance and grace. If you are patient and show a calm demeanor, you will soothe frustrations and ease the hardships and anxiety others are experiencing.

The best leaders remain calm, cool and in control. This enables them to step back, evaluate the situation they are dealing with, and face the problems head on in the best frame of mind.

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